Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Innocent until proven guilty? Rubbish!

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People continuously parrot that X is, "of course, innocent until proven guilty".

But this is rubbish.

Dangerous rubbish. 

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Insofar as it is true that people are innocent until proven guilty, it refers purely to the results of contingent, unreliable and continually-modified legal processes; and has nothing necessarily to do with real life guilt and innocence.

And as the law has drifted further and further away from 'natural law' morality and from common sense, to the point that people also say as if it were obvious - rather than what ought to be regarded as an oxymoron - that 'you cannot legislate morality' - then a person's guilt or innocence in a moral sense is most safely regarded as irrelevant to the outcome of the legal system.

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(Of course, when saying that a person is 'innocent until proven guilty' it may be simply that this expression is not intended literally, but means that judgment is being reserved while awaiting further relevant knowledge - or perhaps this is expressing suspicion of the honesty or intentions of the source of information currently provided.)
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Individual experience, common sense and natural law (the innate sense of right and wrong) and sufficient knowledge of what happened and to whom form the only sound basis for judgments about guilt and innocence.

Legal procedure itself needs to be judged by these criteria - and when this is done, the legal process is often found wanting.

Laws are themselves frequently immoral, wicked, harmful. 

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In real life only a fool would imagine that people that have been acquitted as 'not guilty' (by the legal process) were truly (morally) innocent; or even to assume that they did not do what they were accused of doing.

What people are legally accused of does not capture precisely what they did, because offenses have to be fitted-into a finite set of legal provisions, and to optimize the chance of a conviction a lesser offense is often charged.

Someone may have done a lot more and a lot worse than the precise restricted definition of the crime of which they are legally accused.

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It is common for guilty people to be released on a 'technicality' due to some procedural irregularity in the trial, and then to claim to be 'innocent' in the sense of not having done anything wrong.

It is common for somebody who has done something very wrong to be convicted of some minor, simple misdemeanour (for procedural reasons - as mentioned above, or because the offense does not fit an existing category, or due to plea-bargaining, or something like that) - but this does not mean they are 'innocent' of the more complex serious crime. They did it!

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In the opposite direction, people sometimes accept some other punishment for an act which they did not commit, and are then regarded as legally-guilty, simply because, it is too expensive or time-consuming to contest the charge.  

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Just as only a fool would imagine that those found 'guilty' by due legal process actually did something morally wrong.

With so many ill-defined crimes on the books (such as hate crimes, or libels, or illegal things that no normal person would imagine would or could be forbidden) this is obviously false. 

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Of course, if we personally know nothing about the facts of a situation except what we have discovered from the mass media, then we may have no sound basis for knowing about another person's guilt or innocence.

(However, we may nonetheless have to make a judgment on this matter - for example in casting a vote in an election, or deciding whether or not to give a person money - e.g. by buying a book or a ticket for a show).

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But the baseline for judgment of guilt or innocence should not be a presumption of innocence: that would be suicidal.

Socially competent people should all be engaged continuously in 'profiling' those around them, categorizing, who can be trusted and will steal, who is gentle and who is dangerous, who looks like a potential ally and who an enemy.

We should base judgment on what we know of the person, of their character, what we infer from their appearance, manner and behavior; we need to do the same about the character of the person accusing them; and to take note of the general nature of the situation.

That is how wise people live their lives: that is what we should aspire to in determining guilt or innocence.

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